Debunked: The Myth That Coffee Stunts Kids' Growth

The myth that coffee is unhealthy was accepted wisdom in the 19th century, and debates over coffee’s health impact rage today. But the person most responsible for pushing the myth was someone who had a financial stake in the debate.

As The Atlantic’s Jordan Weissman points out, an article by Joseph Stromberg for traces the history of the myth that coffee stunts children’s growth.  

In the 1800s, C.W. Post, a manufacturer of cereal, invented a breakfast drink called Postum. It was marketed as the safe alternative to coffee. In advertisements, Post pushed the idea that coffee was unhealthy because it supposedly depressed kidney and heart functions and caused nervousness and indigestion. After Post died in 1914, his company kept it up, fueling the myth that coffee stunted a child’s growth. But there’s no proof for that claim.

“No one has ever turned up evidence that drinking coffee has any effect on how much children grow,” Mark Pendergrast, author of a book on coffee, told Stromberg. Pendergrast and Stromberg point out that there are plenty of legitimate reasons children shouldn’t drink coffee--the need for sleep and the fact that caffeine is addictive--but the myth about it stunting their growth is just plain wrong. 

Today, even as coffee remains incredibly popular, the myth about its deleterious effects on children persists.  Attitudes about the general health effect of coffee have become more rooted in reality, though.

As Stromberg writes, “scientists say that the health benefits of drinking two to three cups of coffee per day (a reduced risk of developing dementia, diabetes and heart disease) outweigh the costs (a slight increase in cholesterol levels, for instance).”


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